Interview: a joyful approach to love in 'As You Like It' at La Jolla Playhouse
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, December 5, 2022
Shakespeare's pastoral comedy As you Like It has been celebrated and performed since its development by the bard in 1599. Now, its most recent iteration, a collaboration with Diversionary Theatre, is playing at La Jolla Playhouse through Dec. 11.
A romantic story highlighting the connection between Rosalind and Orlando who first meet at court and then again after both are banished in the Forest of Arden, As You Like It, under the direction and reimagination of Christopher Ashley and Will Davis, has been crafted with a cast of trans, non-binary, and Queer performers at its center, with the intent of embracing the spectrum of gender possibilities, celebrating the joy of falling in love, and elevating the freedom of escaping the constraints and conflicts of the binary.
Actor Cody Sloan is a UC San Diego Theatre and Dance MFA graduate and plays Touchstone in the cast of the current production. Touchstone, a court jester/fool who joins Rosalind and Celia on their journey into the forest, ultimately ends up falling in love on his own in a side plot, marrying goat-herd paramour Audrey.
Sloan shared that playing this particular role has had both its challenges and its triumphs. "Touchstone is incredibly smart, witty, and fast in the jokes and wordplay he makes," he said. "Like all of Shakespeare's clowns, he loves twisting words, speaking in riddles in a way, and impressing people with what he's able to do with this language."
While this sounds like it makes for an entertaining scene, Sloan expressed that it is challenging. Specifically, he is challenged by "getting the language to the quick, joyful level it needs to be at and letting the audience watch me come up with it on the spot. There are moments where he is inventing arguments, stories, or poetry in the moment - and I have to convince the audience that I'm really thinking and speaking these things for the first time in the moment and relishing in that." However, Sloan added: "its also the thing that excites me the most about playing Touchstone."
Co-directors Christopher Ashley and Will Davis, who have engaged in the collaborative process of putting together this unique production, shared that they were inspired by the examination of how much conflict is tied to binary thinking, citing "the unnuanced and unimaginative notion that a person, a community, a country can only be one thing or its opposite."
They felt that As You Like It provided the perfect avenue for sharing the message that this thinking is perilous and fraught. That's because, when the characters move from the court of Duke Frederick to the Forest of Arden, described in the program as a place of infinite possibilities, their lives, choices, and relationships become increasingly more complex and beautiful. "An unfettered imagination and curiosity can grow an entire forest out of the room you're in," penned the directors, recalling Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book Where The Wild Things Are, "and when you come back to that room at the end of your journey, both it and you have been fundamentally changed."
Sloan agrees with the hope that the audience will walk away with something new: a love for the universality of Shakespeare's work. "I hope that people leave the production feeling uplifted, joyful, and that they were able to access Shakespeare and understand the text clearly," he says, adding: "We've had so many young people and teenagers come and that excites me so much!! I hope that they leave feeling excited about Shakespeare and that it belongs to them, no matter who they are or what their life experience is."
Audiences can see Sloan and the rest of the cast of As You Like It at La Jolla Playhouse's Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre through Dec. 11. Tickets are available at LaJollaPlayhouse.org.